Last month Jon and I, along with our pup Piper, needed to get from our home in Livingston, Montana to Boulder, Colorado for an event. Heading straight there we could do the drive in +9 hours, but the route travels through some uninspiring landscapes. We were able to get a few days off work to extend the trip. While we have explored many areas of the west, including the Pacific Northwest and Southwest, we somehow had missed most of Wyoming and Colorado.
Our route began in Livingston traveling south to Jackson, Wyoming on Highway 287, then Highway 20. We skipped traveling through Yellowstone National Park because we needed to make good time. Tourism in the summer keeps the park roads congested, but if you've never been there don't miss Yellowstone. It is one of the most amazing places in the west. Once we hit Jackson we continued heading south on Highway 191.
The first night we camped at Granite Creek just outside Jackson. Our timing was perfect to see the wildflowers and we were able to find a nice camp spot on the creek. If you continue up Granite Creek Road there is a developed hot spring called Granite Hot Springs. You can drive directly to the hot springs and there is camping within 1/2 mile. While we did not partake this time I will definitely be going back!
From Granite Creek we headed to the Flaming Gorge Recreation Area. The best way to experience this area is to go to Green River, Wyoming and head south on Highway 530. From this road there are many Forest Service roads accessing the reservoir which means free camping! We discovered many people set up their RVs and leave them for the week, so while it appeared to be crowded there were not a lot of people around in at least some areas. We camped right on the water which was warm and great to swim in. The air temperatures were peaking in the low 100s during the day so we were ready for some relief!
From the Flaming Gorge we continued heading south until we hit Dinosaur National Monument. In other travels we have found that while National Parks can oftentimes be overwhelmed with tourists, the National Monuments are not as well traveled. Dinosaur National Monument is on the Colorado side of the Utah/Colorado border. We were especially excited about this Monument because the main road (Echo Park Road/Yampa Bench Road) is dirt and impassable when wet. Brochure descriptions like this often deter those without 4WD!
Dinosaur National Monument is gorgeous and was definitely worth braving the temperatures to explore. We saw only a few other cars and most people were involved with floating the Yampa River which has access points in the park. There are several waypoints along the way including petroglyphs and pictographs, as well as historic ranch sites and viewpoints of the Yampa River canyon.
From Dinosaur National Park we headed east to Rocky Mountain National Park. Rocky Mountain National Park was very crowded, as expected. It is a smaller park with one main road so all the congestion is concentrated. However, the people could not spoil the amazing views! My photos do not do it justice - you just need to visit. This seems like one of those parks where you really want to have backpacking gear to get off-the-beaten path, but it was still beautiful to see along the main road. Speaking of the main road - I have never been on a more nerve-racking road! Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of the actual road, but it is not for the faint of heart... or bad drivers.
On the way home we took the "boring" route as fast as possible since we both had to work. The way down was totally worth the return trip and I think we will be visiting these areas again when we have more time. Floating the Yampa River is definitely on my list!
Amy Bowser is the co-owner of Paradise Overland with her husband Jon. In their free time they explore anywhere they can get to with their Toyota and roof top tent.